- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 20, 2006

NICOSIA, Cyprus — They sat, dazed and exhausted by the long voyage and the debilitating noontime heat, next to piles of expensive luggage.

U.S. officials with neckties and badges on sweaty shirts, clipboards in hand, shuffled patiently, recording addresses and Social Security numbers, collecting signatures.

“We’ll get you home as soon as possible,” one repeated.

“Three planeloads left this morning,” a tired blond woman said. “I would like to wash my hair.”

Lebanon was behind, embedded in memories that few of the about 1,000 passengers of the Orient Queen wanted to talk about a day after their cruise ship, hired by the U.S. government, left the harbor of Beirut for the safety of Cyprus.

Still overwhelmed, their nerves frayed, they waited for someone to tell them when and where they would move next.

“Ya haram,” an elderly man clutching a U.S. passport repeated in Arabic. The rough translation is “shame.”

Back in Beirut, U.S. Marines waded ashore on a beach yesterday and evacuated more than 1,000 other Americans to Cyprus, where thousands of foreigners have fled to escape Israeli air strikes across Lebanon.

About 40 lightly armed Marines, aided by Lebanese soldiers, helped the Americans, including many children, to a troop carrier that set sail for the eastern Mediterranean island as two big booms shook the Beirut coastline.

As classical music flowed from the USS Nashville’s loudspeakers, evacuees on the ship’s main deck appeared to be relieved their ordeal was ending, Reuters news agency reported in a dispatch filed from the ship.

“It was total chaos,” said Hisam Ajouz, 18, from Dearborn, Mich. “Everyone was trying to shove their way to the [U.S.] checkpoint. Women were screaming that they had babies, and old people looked like they were on the verge of collapse.”

As a destination, Cyprus provides a somewhat incongruous setting for terrified civilians fleeing a war. Its colored billboards advertise the 31st Cyprus International Fair.

The fairgrounds, inactive at this time of year, have been turned into a temporary home for those fleeing Lebanon.

All were said to be U.S. citizens, and many, particularly the elderly, spoke in Arabic. There were old women in traditional Muslim head scarves and young women with worn-out makeup in stylish jeans.

Voices in English and Arabic wafted over the crowd, some sitting on the ground, others seeking shade, waiting to be processed in an enclosed area for formalities.

Many claimed Michigan as their home, saying it was the biggest concentration of Shi’ite Muslims of Lebanese extraction in the United States.

They were visiting their families in Lebanon when “haram” struck.

Amanda, from Dearborn Heights, said the trip aboard the Orient Queen was “terrible because I was hungry.” Here, in one of the spacious buildings of the fairground, she spent a comfortable night in a “real bed” and was given “lamajoun,” a flat, nourishing pizzalike pastry.

Nasri, from Dearborn, recalled a chaotic scene when boarding the Orient Queen “because some passengers panicked.”

In the end, he said, “all went well.”

At noon, the temperature reached 100 degrees. U.S. Embassy guards asked reporters to stay in one group.

At the Sequel restaurant, which normally caters to fair participants, hastily mobilized waitresses were spreading tablecloths and preparing napkins.

“Yallah, habibi,” (“let’s go, darling”) said Patty from Detroit, holding her young son by the hand. Like others quoted in the story, she did not give her last name.

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